Friday, January 22, 2021

Friday slowdown

 A slightly different rendition of our psalm . . . hope it blesses your heart.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Steps to contentment

 


WARNING: This post went longer than I thought it would.....grab a cup of tea and take your time!

We studied the first verse of Psalm 23 and we noted that in order to find true contentment, we first must know the Lord as our personal Shepherd. "The Lord is my Shepherd." Not anyone else - it must be a relationship between us and the covenant, faithful God of creation.

Let's move on to the second "step" to contentment:

    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, (Psalm 23:2)

"God will provide!"

We hear this phrase often, and too often it is tossed around casually and not appreciated. David is telling us about God's gracious provisions for our lives . . . as we study, we will see so many parallels between the care and compassion of a shepherd, and the love shown by our Good Shepherd.

Digging in to verse two . . . 

Not to re-plow the same ground, but II Peter told us that God has granted to us EVERYTHING pertaining to life. But many Christians are just not content. They take their eyes off the Lord and decide that they know better. They "dig their own cisterns" and search for what they think will satisfy.

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

If we turn away from God and what He has provided, we will never be able to know contentment. We will never know the truth of "He makes me lie down in green pastures."

Jesus told us that there is no greater satisfaction for Him than to see His flock well-fed, resting, secure. It is His desire above all else - our Shepherd literally lay down His life to achieve this.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b)

Not just life. Not "getting by." But abundant life. This makes us see lush green pastures in our mind's eye. Thick grasses, wet with dew. Soft hillocks of wonderful, cushiony turfgrass.

But wait. 

Why, then, are there so many pictures of shepherds in dry, hot, desert-like areas? Why do we think of Moses keeping flocks on the "back side of the desert"? While it's true that much shepherding takes place in those areas, and that it's a vocation more often found there, it's also true that a good shepherd seeks better for his charges. 

Many varieties of sheep thrive in semi-arid areas, and are troubled less by pests and disease. But these areas are often parched and dry, and the grasses are brown and look more like the stubble left after a wildfire! Green pastures in the east, where David lived and wrote, were the result of a tremendous amount of work on the part of a shepherd. Shepherds needed to not only care for their flocks, but also for the land - they were skilled in land use and in improving it. Rocks must be removed to the edges of what would be a pasture, to form a kind of fence. Brush, roots, and stumps must be torn out. The ground must be plowed and soil prepared; irrigation must bring water to encourage grasses to grow -- all of this is vital for the forage needed to sustain the sheep. 

As a youngster, I wondered about the phrase that is used in the Old Testament to describe the Promised Land: a land flowing with milk and honey. At the time, it didn't make sense to me! This is not only poetic language, but it's language that describes a scientific concept! It speaks to the richness and fertility of the land, and also to the fact that when livestock is enjoying good pasturage, the momma cows and sheep can have an increased flow of milk for their babies. The bees that visit the blossoms of the grasses will be producing an increased flow of honey. (Archeological digs have uncovered beehives dating back to the ninth and tenth centuries BC in the area around Jericho.)

So, if we say (or read) that a land is flowing with milk and honey, we are speaking of a land of rich, green pastures.

So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. (Exodus 3:8, NASB)

Now, let's look back at our verse . . . the mental image of a sheep lying down is one that means the sheep is full. It has eaten enough. The sheep then lies down to "chew its cud" just as the cows do. The Good Shepherd has supplied us with green pastures, and I think that the number one reason why we believers lack contentment is that we don't spend as much time in those pastures as we ought to! We don't feed consistently in His Word. We allow our minds to be filled with the brown stubble and dry grass of television, movies, news shows, and the newspapers. Then we wonder why our minds are troubled, and we are beset with anxiety! 

Let us be like the Jews in Berea; let's be eager to believe and eager to search the Scriptures. Let's allow the scriptures to be just as vital, just as important as our daily food.

How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)

I have treasured Your word in my heart,
So that I may not sin against You. (Psalm 119:11)

God's Word has milk for the lambs in Christ, the babes, the new believers. His Word also has meat for the more mature. If only we will feed on His Word daily, we will find contentment in our Savior.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Digging into Psalm 23

 


Human beings seem to never be content. No matter how much they "have," they always seem to want more. You'd think that with all of the creature comforts and high standards of living that we enjoy, that we'd be contented. 

But we're not. We find evidence for this in our constant striving for more things and more money. People today never feel like they have enough money, yet they spend it constantly for the newest and most innovative, interesting things. How many people today are living on credit, because they simply MUST have this particular bauble? How many people, too, are living in conflict and stress because of human beings' insatiable lust for sex? How many people are just plain restless all the time? Even many believers are not content - we join unbelievers in lines at the bookstores and listen avidly to podcasts - seeking self-help and psychotherapy that promises to assuage our inner turmoil.

But I seem to recall in our study of II Peter, that God has provided us with everything pertaining to life and to godliness . . . 

for His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. (II Peter 1:3, NASB)

David, the shepherd-king, shows us in Psalm 23 the musings of a contented heart. Our relationship with God is compared to that of a contented, well-cared for sheep. It would have been a familiar analogy in David's day......but many of us have never "met" a sheep or a lamb outside of a petting zoo! It's lucky for us that so many pastors and preachers have studied and spoken and wrote about this psalm. Their consensus is that contentment comes from experiencing all that our Father God, our Good Shepherd, has provided for us.

I reckon it's pretty important -- that first step to contentment is right out there in the open. Easy to see:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1, KJV)

The key to "not wanting" is to have the Lord as our Shepherd. Many people hear this at funerals. Or they hear it recited or as a responsive reading in church. It's very familiar; it's very soothing. But if we don't know the Lord as our personal Shepherd, it is also very meaningless. 

Do you feel I'm being too harsh?

Jesus made it clear that His being a Shepherd was not a blanket truth that applied to everyone. Not every person has Jesus Christ as his or her personal Shepherd. Remember when some of our Savior's opposition said, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly"? Remember what Jesus told them?

 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:25-28)

So, according to our Savior, the way to become one of His sheep is to hear His words, to understand them as verified in the things He did, and to believe by following Him.  Always at the core of what Jesus taught and did was the cross - where He took our penalty for our sins. Kinda makes sense that Psalm 23 follows Psalm 22, no? In Psalm 22, we studied our Messiah, forsaken of God as He bore the heavy weight of our sins on the cross.  It's only AFTER that that we read about the Lord being our kindly, caring Shepherd. We must believe in Him as our substitute, God's Son as sacrifice, before we can know Him as our Shepherd Who meets our every need. 

If we know the Savior of Psalm 22, and we trust in His death on the cross for us, and then we are seeking to follow Him, we can say with David, "The Lord, the covenant-keeper, the faithful God, is my Shepherd."

Phillip Keller, in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, tells of a shepherd who kept flocks next to his own. To say that the man was an indifferent shepherd would be to put it mildly. He showed no concern for his flock, and considered them to be just a bunch of dumb animals fit for slaughter. He didn't work on keeping his fields lush and growing, so that they would be well-fed -- in fact, this indifferent shepherd's fields were brown and impoverished, with insufficient shelter to protect them from storms, and with muddy, polluted water to drink. In their weak and sickly condition, they were easy prey for dogs, cougars, and rustlers. Phillip would often see them huddled in groups, staring blankly at the beautiful green pastures where he kept his own flocks. They are a picture of those who are in bondage to sin.

I heard once of a little girl who had tried to memorize Psalm 23:1 in Sunday School, but misquoted it as "The Lord is my Shepherd; I've got all I want."

Well, she actually got it right! If we have the Lord as our Good Shepherd, we can truly say, "I've got all I want." The first step to contentment is to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is our personal Shepherd.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Prayer requests

 

We are in a pickle here in the United States. Censorship is raising its head and coming for many of us with loud footsteps. It just may be that this blog gets the axe at some point soon. I've never pulled any punches. I've said what the Spirit of God nudged me to say; some of it has been politically incorrect. But until now, it has been protected by the First Amendment. 

However, the First Amendment is not a high priority at the moment in this country. 

Scary? Yes.

This culture war in America is first and foremost a war of words. And guess what? Evil is winning.

Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others are coming down hard on those who say things -- not things that are incorrect, but things they don't agree with. The old practice of intelligent and reasoned debate on our disagreements has given way to a cancel culture that simply wants to silence or destroy whoever holds a contrary opinion . . . . accusations of "triggering," "microaggressions," racism, and plenty of other "ism's" fly through the air and sully reputations. 
Whatever happened to Voltaire's "I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it"?

Whatever happened to open discussion and persuasion?

In these Orwellian days, good is deemed bad, and bad is labeled good. If you are speaking quietly, it makes no difference. Even if you are quietly disagreeing, you are said to be shouting, mocking, ridiculing other individuals. You may even be accused of "hate" speech.

A recent Prager U video notes that we have a generation who is being raised not to value freedom OF speech, but freedom FROM speech. We are urged not to explore and discuss difficult topics in everyday life, college classes, and other situations, but to AVOID them! 

(Raising hand) Can I ask a question? 

How can I understand someone else's point of view if I never allow him or her to tell me about it? How can I learn, if I am constantly cocooned in things I know and agree with? 

(I know, I know. Rhetorical questions. The answer is obvious. It can't happen.)

Freedom of speech is broadly defined as having the right to express opinions without government restraint. It's an ideal whose beginnings date back to ancient Greece, and that has been cherished since the advent of the United States. Court case after court case, precedent after precedent, free speech has been protected. The common sense synopsis has been that even if I'm offended by what you say, it's ok for you to say it. With very few exceptions. Until today. 

And that is why I have broached this topic. I'm asking all of you to pray that "we the people" will wake up. That they will have some modicum of common sense. Somehow. 

Otherwise, this study blog, like so many other sources of good, will be snuffed out. We may try to open to study one morning and find it's been removed. Stamped out. 

“In those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech...." Benjamin Franklin

My prayer request for today is that God will help us. That God will preserve His Word. That He will help us to be champions of His Word, and that we will have courage to do so. 

In the coming days, we may be sorely tested. God help us all.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Starting Psalm 23

 


This is another psalm that I approach with a careful, cautious tread. I don't want to rush in with stomping feet and get things wrong. There's so much here......so many brilliant scholars and Spirit-filled pastors have spoken and written on these words. What can I offer? I certainly can't offer anything new! But I can tell you what the Spirit has shown me as I studied these lovely, comforting, familiar-to-all-of-us words . . . .

I expect that for many of us, the King James translation was the first one that we heard this psalm from. For that reason, I've posted the KJV here, even though I may delve into other translations as we study:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.  (Psalm 23, KJV)

Do me (and yourself) a favor, won't you? 

Take time to re-read these verses today. 

Pray that God will guide our study in the coming days. 

The Lord will bless our studies and comfort our souls.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Resting - reconciliation

 


We talked about how God rested to set an example for us - He rested after the work of creation. Jesus rested in the boat before His disciples awakened Him, in fear of the storm. Jesus also rested after completing the work of the cross . . . Remember His words?

And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I ENTRUST MY SPIRIT.” And having said this, He died. (Luke 23:46)

Through our Savior's death, the work of salvation was finished - Jesus could enter the fullness of rest.

Therefore, while the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be deemed to have fallen short of it. For we also received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, since they did not share the faith of those who comprehended it. ......There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following the same pattern of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-2,9-11)

What is the rest that the writer of Hebrews is mentioning? He began his discussion of the rest in chapter 3, and referenced the Israelites wandering in the desert. God promised them the land of Canaan; He promised that He would go before them and defeat their enemies. He would make it possible for them to live in peace and security. 

What did they have to do? What was required of them? Simply to trust in God and His promises. 

But they refused to obey God, even murmured against Him and yearned to go back to Egypt! Because of their rebellion, it would be the next generation who placed their faith in God and entered the rest God had promised, in the Promised Land.

In chapter four of Hebrews, there's a more personal application of resting in God's promises. It's for us. Well, both to Hebrew and Gentile Christians! 

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. (Hebrews 4:1, NIV)

The promise for us, the believers of today, is not that of entering the Promised Land, but of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is He Who can provide the eternal rest of salvation for our sins. God's rest is in the spiritual realm and faith is the key to entering it. The writer notes that the Hebrews had the gospel preached to them, but they did not combine hearing the message with the faith necessary to receive it...many of those who heard the good news rejected it for lack of faith.

Yes, resting in God is anchored in our salvation, through Jesus. Just as God rested from the completed work of creation, we can rest in the finished work of Jesus . . . what does this mean? Well, it means that we can rest from our empty efforts to earn our salvation. Our redemption does not come through OUR work, but from Jesus' work! And His salvation work is done!

True Sabbath rest is when we enter eternal life in the presence of God -- and since we have His presence beginning with our acceptance of His salvation, eternal life is now; it's already started! Look at these verses:

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:40)

The passage in Hebrews makes it pretty clear that the Israelites didn't enter rest because they failed to believe. The book of Hebrews talks a lot about hardness of heart, and failure to believe. It's a call to everyone to believe in Jesus and be reconciled to God. This helps us to more fully understand Jesus' words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

And we have many verses and passages that assure us of our eternal rest. We are called to patient endurance, cheerful obedience, and determined faithfulness to our Savior.

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Revelation 14:13)

What does "rest from their labor" look like? We have a description:

Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” Revelation 7:15-17)

"Face to face with Christ my Savior, ......"

"I can only imagine....."

Old hymns or new songs, we believers long for the day when we enter the rest of our Savior. If we desire for our time on earth to be more restful, let's be faithful about making the seventh day a Sabbath day of rest. Let's listen to Jesus' offer, and go to Him and accept His gift of rest.